BANGOR, Maine — It was almost wistfully that Gov. Paul LePage fondly recalled his favorite memories in the private business sector before a crowd of 100 people attending the Family Business Forum on Thursday morning.
“I really enjoyed having the freedom of running my own business. Believe me, I don’t know where I got this brain cramp that I should be governor,” Gov. LePage joked, provoking laughter from the audience at Husson University’s Gracie Theatre.
“There are many challenges working with family-owned businesses, but believe me, it’s a cakewalk next to being the chief executive,” LePage added. “Although I must tell you I absolutely love serving the state of Maine.”
LePage — the head of a family consulting business which provided executive officer, CEO and chief financial officer, or CFO, services and advice to banks, firms, insurance and other companies for 15 years — delivered the keynote presentation for the Institute for Family-Owned Business’ forum.
“The most enjoyable part of my business career was working together and having my wife running the office,” said LePage, who also served two terms as a Waterville city councilor and as the city’s mayor. “It actually strengthened our family.”
After performing some transitional work for Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, LePage was hired full-time as general manager in 1996.
“I look at Marden’s as a state icon,” LePage said. “I became governor because I was general manager of Marden’s more, I think, than my political skills, because they are lacking.”
The four-hour forum featured presentations by LePage and panelists including Deborah Delp, president of Yankee Marina and Boat Yard; Harry Fraser, general manager of Johnny’s Selected Seeds; and Maria Baeza, master of social work, as well as smaller panel discussions.
“In any business cycle, about 40 percent of family-owned businesses will change hands,” LePage said. “When that transition occurs, the statistics are not good. Just over 40 percent of family-owned businesses will survive the second generation. Third generation drops all the way down to 12 percent and if you get to fourth, it’s 3 percent.”
LePage went on to outline what he considers some of the key factors affecting that declining rate.
“The biggest challenge for family-owned companies that I’ve experienced initially is communication among the owners,” LePage said.
“One of the biggest failures of family-owned businesses is in the transition,” he added. “The emotion of being a parent and wanting your child to be in charge, and [the] emotion of wanting the company to succeed sometimes conflict.
“They need to understand that what’s good for the family isn’t always good for the company, and that’s tough.”
The forum is the brainchild of IFOB executive director Gina Weathersby, who met with LePage after hearing him speak at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. It was LePage who suggested Husson to host the event.
“I was quite impressed by his passion for business, especially family business,” said Weathersby, who ran a health management company and a service that helped professional athletes set up nonprofit organizations and family foundations.
Weathersby, who is planning on holding two forums a year in different locations, was impressed by the turnout and the quality of questions by participants.
“We can feed off this one,” she said. “This gives us a chance to evaluate what people are particularly interested in and what we can do better.”